Billboard is reporting that nine-time Grammy Award-winner John Legend surprised students at the Kennedy Center on Tuesday to shed light on his plans to start a Marvin Gaye-inspired program that encourages young artists to face social issues head-on through art.
The idea comes from the late Marvin Gayes’ hit song “What’s Going On?”, and to commemorate the 40th anniversary of his death, they ask “What’s Going On… Now?” Legend entered the rehearsal room of the high school choir at the Duke Ellington High School of the Arts. “You sound good… Can I play with you?”, Legend asked as he sat next to a student on the piano bench and the entire room filled with admiration.
One of Gaye’s most memorable Motown albums tackled issues including drug addiction, war, and poverty. Gaye performed the entire album in 1972 at the Kennedy Center – which was his first live performance in two years since the death of singer and friend, Tammi Terrell.
Seventeen-year-old India Reynolds, a member of the Duke Ellington choir, said “If ‘What’s Going On’ came out yesterday, it still would have been a hit.” That statement holds true, as Legend and the choir sang, everyone knew every word as if the song was a newly released pop song on the radio.
Legend stressed that his parents were big fans of Gaye’s tunes, which in turn, made him a part of his childhood. “Music right now… especially in hip hop, no one really wants to talk about poverty,” he told The Associated Press. “And if people did make (such music), would the audience respond in a way that would encourage more people to make it?”
Darrell Ayers, the Kennedy Center’s vice president for education, stressed the importance of the arts as a way for students “to realize the impact the arts can have, not just to make you feel good but to make people think about things.”
Students are encouraged to upload videos, photos, music, poems, or any recordings of creative expression to the project’s website. Two participants will win a free trip to Washington for the concert, and to perform with Legend and others.
The project will culminate in two concerts at the Kennedy Center on May 3-4 with the National Symphony Orchestra.